The desman is a small semi-aquatic mammal that belongs to the family Talpidae, which also includes moles and shrews. There are two species of desman: the Russian desman (Desmana moschata) and the Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus). The Pyrenean desman is found only in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain, France, and Andorra, while the Russian desman is found in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
Desmans are known for their unique physical adaptations for life in aquatic environments, including a long and flexible snout, webbed feet, and a flattened tail that functions as a rudder. They have dense, waterproof fur that helps them stay warm while swimming in cold water.
Desmans feed primarily on aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, insects, and mollusks, which they locate using their sensitive snouts. They are active mainly at night and spend much of their time in burrows along the banks of rivers and streams.
Unfortunately, both species of desman are listed as endangered due to habitat loss, water pollution, and other threats. In Spain, the Pyrenean desman is protected by law, and conservation efforts are underway to protect its remaining habitat and prevent further population decline. These efforts include habitat restoration, pollution reduction, and public education about the importance of conserving this unique and threatened species.
The Spanish desman in Spanish is called the desmán ibérico
The Spanish desman is similar in appearance and behavior to the Russian desman, with a long and flexible snout, webbed feet, and a flattened tail that functions as a rudder. It feeds primarily on aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, insects, and mollusks, which it locates using its sensitive snout.
In Spain, the desman is listed as endangered due to habitat loss, water pollution, and other threats. It is protected by law and conservation efforts are underway to protect its remaining habitat and prevent further population decline. These efforts include habitat restoration, pollution reduction, and public education about the importance of conserving this unique and threatened species.
In Spàin, two sub species of Iberian desman are known
- Galemys pyrenaicus pyrenaicus, E. Geoffroy, 1811. Smaller, and was described for the populations that inhabit the Cantabrian strip and on both sides of the Pyrenees.
- Galemys pyrenaicus rufulus, Graells, 1897. For the populations that inhabit the Central system.
(Currently, the guidelines that were used in the description of the two subspecies are questioned by some authors and supported by others, without the genetic structure of the two populations having been sufficiently studied.)
Distribution in Spain
The desman is found in 12 regions of Spain and in parts of Portugal, France and Andorra. However, its current range is restricted to the mountainous areas in the northern half of the Iberian Peninsula. It has vanished from the provinces of Guadalajara, Madrid, Segovia, Avila, Valladolid, Cuenca and Zaragoza.
It is also on the brink of extinction in the provinces of the Basque Country, Caceres, Salamanca and Huesca. In recent years, its distribution area has shrunk to seven isolated zones; two of them are likely extinct. Among the remaining ones, only three have populations with good prospects for survival: the Atlantic Region, the northern Iberian System and the Pyrenees; it has almost disappeared from the rest: Basque Pasillo, southern Iberian System, Meseta and Central System.
The decline of the species over the last few decades has been uneven across its range, with an average of 68%, ranging from 47 to 100%, placing it closer to the category of ENDANGERED than VULNERABLE. Desman population centres have been detected in all the provinces where they still exist. In Spain it is classified as VULNERABLE, except for the populations in the Central System, which are CRITICALLY ENDANGERED.
Five important points to protect the desman in Spain and its habitat:
- Protect and restore riverine habitats: The desman is highly dependent on clean and healthy riverine habitats for its survival. Protecting and restoring riverine habitats is critical to ensuring the long-term survival of the species.
- Control pollution: Water pollution, particularly from agricultural runoff and industrial discharge, is a major threat to the desman. Efforts should be made to reduce pollution and regulate its sources.
- Prevent habitat fragmentation: Habitat fragmentation, caused by human activities such as road construction and development, can isolate desman populations and reduce genetic diversity. Strategies to prevent or minimize habitat fragmentation should be implemented.
- Implement conservation measures in protected areas: Protected areas, such as national parks and wildlife reserves, can play an important role in protecting desman habitat. Conservation measures should be implemented in these areas to ensure the survival of the species.
- Increase public awareness: Raising public awareness about the importance of the desman and its habitat can help to build support for conservation efforts. Education and outreach programs should be developed to promote understanding and appreciation of this unique and threatened species.
Further reading about The Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus)
Programme for the recovery and conservation of Galemys pyrenaicus and its habitat in Castile and Leon and Extremadura
The website for the EU LIFE + DESMANIA is still live at the time of publishing this article but the last entry is in 2019: https://www.lifedesman.es/en (The project actually ran from 2012 to 2016)
Wikipedia has a page about the Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrenean_desman
Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia. https://www.rondatoday.com/
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